Micron earnings devastated by US/China conflict

Micron Technologies unveiled fourth quarter and full-year financials for 2019, with the on-going tension between the US and China shattering the spreadsheets with distressing effect.

The company, which is a US producer of advanced semiconductor products, is one of the unfortunate victims of the US/China trade war. Like many other technology companies who are a supplier to Huawei, the on-going saga is having a catastrophic impact on financials. Unless there is a resolution on the horizon, Micron could look like a very different business in the very near future.

“We have applied for licenses with the Department of Commerce that would allow us to ship additional products, but there have been no decisions on licenses to date,” said CEO Sanjay Mehrotra during the earnings call.

“We see ongoing uncertainty surrounding US China trade negotiations. If the Entity List restrictions against Huawei continue and we are unable to get licenses, we could see a worsening decline in our sales to Huawei over the coming quarters.”

A word of warning for those who do not like are of a delicate disposition, the numbers being quoted below are not pretty.

Total revenues for the final quarter of 2019 stood at $4.87 billion. This is a slight increase quarter-on-quarter, but down roughly 43% compared to the $8.44 billion brought in for Q4 2018. Net income came to $561 billion for the three-month period, compared to $4.33 billion in the same period of 2018.

For the full-year, revenues stood at $23.406 billion compared to $30.391 billion across 2018, while net income dropped to $6.313 down from $14.135 billion.

President Donald Trump might well be pursuing national security, assuming you believe the statements, though that will come as little comfort for any of Micron’s employees, investors or suppliers.

Mehrotra has attempted to put as positive a spin as possible on these results, but it is a very difficult sell. The markets are looking positive for the business if you ignore the omission of Huawei as a customer, but it is very difficult to avoid the fact the company will make less money if it is not allowed to do business with the Chinese firm.

What is worth noting is that the business is slightly prepared for this nightmare scenario. The team have put in the work to prepare the organization, and as such, Micron actually delivered beyond analyst expectations for the quarter. That said, with share price declining 9.5% since the earnings call, it is clearly not a favourable position.

And Micron is not alone in this sticky position.

Skyworks Solutions, a supplier of semiconductors to Huawei, reported revenues of $767 million during the latest financial results, compared to $894.3 million in the previous year. The decision to ban work with Huawei only came a few weeks prior to this earnings call, and we suspect the financial hole will be substantially bigger come the next time Skyworks Solutions addresses investors.

Finisar is another US firm which saw revenues decrease to $285 million from $317.3 million year-on-year owing to challenging macro-economic environment. Qorvo is one firm which has seemingly survived the first waves of conflict, though it is forecast to have an impact soon enough.

“Ultimately, we were able to begin shipments of certain products [To Huawei] late in the quarter and we have applied for a license to expand the products we can sell,” Qorvo CEO Robert Bruggeworth said during the earnings call in August.

“We will continue to support them consistent with all applicable legal requirements. Finally, as our June quarter and September guidance demonstrate, we are effectively navigating a challenging environment and our products and technology continue to support solid sustainable results.”

Qorvo is forecasting revenues of $745 million to $765 million during the three-month period we are currently in. This would compare to $884.4 million which was brought in for the same quarter of 2018, prior to the Huawei misery.

And while these companies are applying for licences to work with Huawei while simultaneously praying for an end to the conflict, the chaos might continue well into the future.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has recently said Huawei has begun the production of 5G base stations which do not contain any US component.

“We carried out the testing in August and September, and from October on we will start scale production,” Ren said.

This is something which should be viewed as worst-case scenario for everyone involved from the US side of the conflict. If you are of a sceptical nature and believe the tension has been heightened by Trump as a means to demonstrate US power to gain an edge in trade talks, Huawei surviving is a bad outcome. Another bad outcome is Huawei surviving and then restructuring its supply chain to removal any US suppliers.

Ren has initially said it would start production of base stations free of US components immediately, targeting 5,000 a month. Huawei is currently targeting the production of 600,000 base stations this year, scaling up to 1.5 million in 2020, though it is unknown how many of these will be with or without US components.

If Huawei can operate without any US suppliers in the supply chain, then it becomes a much more stable company. It is also an outcome which would please the Chinese Government considering the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan. This strategy aims to move China away from being the world’s ‘factory’ and move to producing higher value products and services.

And finally, onto President Trump, this is a disastrous outcome. The White House perhaps implemented this aggression towards Huawei to make the company falter and demonstrate power. If Ren is to be believed, Huawei will have negotiated the turbulent times and come out the other side without the need for US suppliers. The quality of the supply chain alternatives remains to be seen however.

Prior to this chapter of the saga, US firms were making profits from Huawei’s success; this might not be the case anymore.